Walmart is letting taxpayers pick up the tab for securing its stores by relying on police instead of hiring its own guards, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis. In the four counties surrounding the bay, there were 16,800 calls to police from Walmart stores in 2014 alone. That works out to two calls an hour every day to the 53 area stores, which were the only large retailers that made it onto the list of police departments' most-visited locations. The rate of Walmart calls was so high that many patrol officers ended up spending much of their time in and around the stores, accounting for another 6,200 recorded police visits in 2014. Some of the visits were for problems like violence, but the vast majority were for suspected theft, often involving items worth just a few dollars, or for general disorder like rowdy customers or suspicious loiterers.
Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, compares the high level of Walmart calls, each one of which uses up police time and resources, to parents calling 911 every time their child misbehaves. "That's not what police are for," he tells the Times. Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing and a former police chief, says Walmart can easily afford to hire many more private security guards and better train other staff to perform "those policing functions to both prevent the low-level disorder and also to respond to it, only calling police if in their judgment it might turn violent." Walmart declined to say how many stores had uniformed guards, but Times reporters visited every store in the area and spotted security guards in just five of them. (This mayor declared Walmart a public nuisance.)